This month a group of riders plans to bikepack around Vermont on a route that covers some of the prettiest parts of the state.
On September 27, a group of riders will set out from Montpelier on a bikepacking route that’s been years in the making. They plan to ride the length of the state and back on primarily trails and dirt roads in the second official grand depart of the Super 8.
“We did a trial run a couple of years ago,” says Daniel Jordan, 31, one of the
organizers of the Super 8 and Vermont Bikepackers. “I think we had about 6 people and we pretty quickly got dispersed.” This year, Jordan says 25 have already signed up and he, and route-keepers Kris Dennan, 44 and David Tremblay, 55, are putting the final touches on a map they plan to share.
The Super 8, a figure 8 of old Class IV roads, double-track trails, dirt highways and some pavement, passes through some of the most scenic and remote parts of the state. It loops southeast from Montpelier through Windsor County and the Coolidge State Forest. A 15-mile section traverses the southern part of the state’s George Aiken Wilderness on a forest road so quiet and remote that you are unlikely to see another person. “It’s like a long green tunnel through the forest,” says Dennan.
“We’re not trying to take the most extreme or most rugged road, we don’t want to always take the craziest route, just the most scenic and fun,” says Jordan.
As of August, 2019, the route cruises north from Bennington on the D&H Rail Trail past Poultney, with a stop at Lake St. Catherine. “We are rerouting it to Benson where the Wheel Inn has the most amazing pies,” says Dennan, a Vermonter who grew up in the area.
The Super 8 will then run along Lake Champlain, past the orchards of Addison County, before cutting back east toward the Greens. It follows historic roads, the Natural Turnpike—a dirt road that connects the Breadloaf Wilderness to Lincoln and then cuts back toward the Mad River Valley and Montpelier.
From there, a northern loop winds to the far reaches of the Northeast Kingdom, with stops at lakes and remote campsites. “In the Green Mountain National Forest, we do dispersed camping—in other places it’s at campgrounds and sometimes with private landowner permission,” says Dennan.
“The route itself is pretty much crowdsourced,” says Jordan. In 2015, Jordan had just moved to Vermont and was living in the Norwich area. “I read a story in Vermont Sports about the XVT trail that Dave Tremblay had mapped and immediately got in touch with him.”
Tremblay, the state apiarist at the time, had worked with the late Dave Blumenthal to map a route that would run down the center of the state, much of it on singletrack or double track, called the XVT. In 2015, a ski patroller from Killington named Calvin Decker rode the length of it in an amazing 38 hours.
“Originally the idea behind the Super 8 was to connect as much single track as we could,” says Jordan. “But that proved to be very untenable. Single track in Vermont is like spaghetti and there are not a lot of big long routes. It’s also really technical and felt really forced.”
Instead, Jordan, Tremblay and Dennan each began mapping scenic gravel routes in their parts of the state. “With the 2009 passage of Act 178, the Ancient Roads Act, all these towns had until 2015 to provide online maps of their old roads so we had a great resource there,” says Jordan. “We did this all virtually until one day I rode south from the section I was mapping in Norwich and Kris rode north from what he was mapping in southern Vermont, and we finally got to meet and ride together.
They added campsites and swimming holes, bikepacker-friendly Airbnbs and cremee stands. Dennan, who runs Vermont Gravel Tours and has helped Stratton Resort put in its first lift-served trails, knew the southern part like the back of his hand. Jordan, who moved from Norwich to Littleton, N.H., explored the northeast part of the state and Tremblay, a Mad River Valley local, was familiar with the central section.
“We had a lot of help from riders all over the state and shops such as Old Spokes Home, West Hill Shop, Onion River and Bootlegger Bikes,” says Dennan. “We don’t lay claim to bikepacking in Vermont,” says Jordan. “There are people like Christine Hill who have led tours for Old Spokes Home, Chloe Wexler of Velo Vermont and the local chapter of WTF Bike Explorers who are also mapping routes,” he says.
“It really doesn’t matter where you go or how you do it,” says Jordan. “There’s a guy who just did the first few days of the XVT trail as an inn-to-inn route,” he says, referring to Stowe Trails Partnership president Roger Murphy.
“Bikepacking is perfect for Vermont —we have trails, we have miles and miles of old roads, and we have great little inns, pizza places, cremee stops and breweries along the way.”
What more could you ask for?
For more on bikepacking Vermont, see “The Insider’s Guide to Bikepacking Vermont.”
Featured Photo Caption: The scene at the Vermont Bikepackers board meeting in 2017 as Kris Dennan and David Tremblay sample the Super 8 and camp in the Green Mountain National Forest Photo by Daniel Jordan